Building the Information-base1 for Aquaculture
Policy-making, Planning and Management

Yong-Ja Cho2

Apartment 405-1109708 Sooseo-dong, Kangnam-ku,
Seoul, Republic of Korea

Cho, Yong-Ja. 2001. Building the information-base for aquaculture policy-making, planning and management. In R.P. Subasinghe, P. Bueno, M.J. Phillips, C. Hough, S.E. McGladdery & J.R. Arthur, eds. Aquaculture in the Third Millennium. Technical Proceedings of the Conference on Aquaculture in the Third Millennium, Bangkok, Thailand, 20-25 February 2000. pp.121-128. NACA, Bangkok and FAO, Rome.

The thematic session agreed on two general purposes for building the information bases necessary to support and manage sustainable development of the aquaculture sector. (The participants also noted that the other sessions were describing specific information issues that relate to their respective topics). It was emphasized that the role of information gathering and the task of building the capacity of countries for information management assume a greater urgency by the fact that policy-makers, planners and managers usually: i) have little time to assimilate bulky data and information, ii) make decisions with or without information and iii) fall under political pressure to make rapid decisions. Having established the above boundaries for discussion, the session tackled the linked issues of how to facilitate policy-making, planning and management and how to define the information required and the channels through which it can best be disseminated.

The discussions highlighted the concerns that: i) the high-level political will that is essential to implement actions for improving access to and use of information is often lacking; ii) many recommendations from previous meetings have not been implemented, and the reasons for this situation need to be examined; iii) costs of information collection and analysis often do not, or are not seen to match the benefits from informed decisions and subsequent good policy and management action; and iv) efforts should be increased to improve the use of data and information. The discussions led to the synthesis of six issues and the formulation of recommendations to resolve these issues.

KEY WORDS: Aquaculture, Information, Policy-making, Planning, Capacity-building





Aquaculture has been practised since the beginning of civilisation. However, the concept of aquaculture management is relatively new. The challenge for aquaculture policy-makers, planners and managers is to fully realize the potential contribution of aquaculture in satisfying current and future human needs, while conserving and protecting natural resources.

The successful application of aquaculture technologies has been constrained by a lack of optimal political and economic conditions under which environmentally sound and socially equitable aquaculture can develop. Enabling mechanisms, particularly appropriate policies and institutional arrangements, have been lacking or weak. These difficulties stem from different interest spheres and complex interrelationships between aquaculturalists, environmentalists and socio-economists. Decision-makers at various levels of government, aquaculture operations and supporting communities (research and industry), as well as international and donor organizations, are key contributors to the policy and technology elements required to produce effective policies and strategies. All of these require open communication and support for collection and utilization of all pertinent information.

There is broad consensus throughout the aquaculture sector that informed policy and management decision-
making call for improved data and information. This includes information from the aquafarm gates to the office of the minister responsible for planning and management of the sector (FAO/NACA, 1998). Current decision-making on the role of aquaculture in sustainable fisheries is hampered by a lack of information and awareness of the nature and extent of the impacts of aquaculture on the economy, environment, food security, nutrition and rural development. Another significant knowledge gap is clear documentation of the effects of any changes in aquaculture policies or management actions.


The complexity of the interactions of aquaculture with other sectors further complicates this formidable task at all levels of decision-making.

Information and aquaculture policy-making, planning and management

The processes of aquaculture policy-making, planning and management are dynamic and involve a continuous flow of information vertically (national economic to sectoral levels, national to regional levels and regional to local decision-making levels) and horizontally (between farms, associations or unions, and between government departments) to ensure that the policies and plans developed at each level of the planning hierarchy harmonize with each other (see Fig. 1). To formulate effective policies and mitigate potential adverse effects, it is necessary to:

  • assess and quantify impacts and implications of aquaculture policy changes and management interventions on production, supply, demands, revenues, expenditures and related resources;
  • monitor and understand the response mechanisms of farmers and markets to changing socio-economic conditions; and





  • determine the most appropriate and realistic objectives for each sector, and establish the optimum framework required to achieve planning or policy objectives (priorities and nature of interventions).

All these activities require substantial amounts of physical, natural, biological and socio-economic data from a wide range of sources, e.g. population demographics; physical geography and hydrology; national and regional development programmes; land and water-use policies; environmental and fishery legislation; national food policy and nutrition requirements; status and trends of aquaculture and fisheries sectors; impacts of aquaculture on national, regional and local economies; national infrastructure and manpower; global, national, regional and local economic influences etc.

Various agencies, including government and non governmental organizations (NGOs), are involved in the compilation, analysis and dissemination of these data. For instance, national statistical offices/departments collect a variety of data that are required to formulate national development policies and plans. State/provincial and local administrations, farmer’s cooperatives and professional organizations also collect and process data, but often at a regional level, for the purpose of local administration or to promote the welfare of their members. Thus the data often provided to central government agencies is an aggregate from different sources.

At the same time, specific data and information are compiled and managed by the aquaculture sector, often in collaboration with the related agencies, such as national statistics departments and/or agricultural and fisheries statistics offices. Aquaculture productivity monitoring and assessment involves routine collection and analysis of basic data through established mechanisms. Depending on policy and management purposes, supplementary data may also be compiled and analysed, e.g. for sector or sub sector reviews.

Data and information compiled at the national level are then shared regionally and globally, through various collaborative agencies such as the fishery and aquaculture statistical programmes of FAO, regional fishery bodies, GLOBEFISH, INFOFISH, ASFA (Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries Abstracts) and AAPQIS (Aquatic Animal Pathogen and Quarantine Information System).


Information issues

A variety of aquaculture data and information bases are available, although their relevance and usefulness for policy-making, planning and management differ. Rapidly advancing information and communication technologies provide powerful tools for aquaculture data and information management. High-speed and high-capacity processing and analytical systems can now process massive volumes of data, which would have been inconceivable 10 years ago. The same systems have ever strengthening transmission networks that enhance data exchange and dissemination wherever required. Remote sensing technology can be employed to gather data on resources that were previously difficult to access or monitor, and geographic information systems (GIS) are now routinely used to process spatial data and information. Various Internet-based systems are being developed to further enhance accessibility, availability and dissemination of fishery and aquaculture data and information, e.g. the FGIS (Fisheries Global Information System) of FAO, which will incorporate SIPAL (Système Informatique du Promotion de l’Aquaculture de l’Amerique-Latin - Information System for the Promotion of Aquaculture in Latin America) and SIPAM (Système Informatique du Promotion de l’Aquaculture dans la Mediterranée - Information System for the Promotion of Aquaculture in the Mediterranean). These approaches have brought about tremendous advances in sharing of ideas and information over the Internet.

On the other hand, the higher volume and speed of data processing and exchange, easier monitoring and access to information have made data quality control a critical issue. Greater attention to the vast number of data quality control points is needed now, compared with information processing and transmission using traditional media. It also suggests a greater importance and increasing role of institutions that can serve as “honest” information brokers and certifiers - a paradox in this information age, where new information and communication technology enables greater and faster information exchange between or among individuals, thus tending to bypass bureaucracy and institutions. Theoretical approaches, analytical methods and software applications, including decision support systems, are now becoming more and more available to a wider audience, although at a slower pace in the “less-connected” regions of the world.




Despite this growth in aquaculture data collection and transmission capacity, there is a clear indication that this does not adequately meet the needs of policy-making, planning and management sectors in many countries. The fundamental problems relate to:

  • the purposes for data collection;
  • what data and information need to be compiled;
  • how to undertake the compilation and analysis of the data and information in an accurate, reliable and timely manner; and
  • how to ensure effective dissemination and utilization of the results from this data and information analyses.

As an example, the government planners and decision-makers participating in the International Workshop on Integrated Coastal Management in Tropical Developing Countries, held in Xiamen, China, 24-28 May 1996, pointed out that scientific input is often undermined by the way the information is presented, i.e. it is not in a form readily usable and/or understandable by policy-planners or managers (Chua, 1996). They noted that:

  • there are times when policy-makers cannot afford to consider long-term environmental management issues.
  • management has to be a combined with indigenous knowledge, i.e. scientific data and non scientific information are required for management issues.Neither should be used in isolation.
  • there is a need (for scientists) to present information in a format that can be readily used by planners and decision-makers;and
  • planners and managers need to have clear and measurable indicators of success or failure, and understand how the field data is analysed to obtain information for decision-making.

Furthermore, the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC)-FAO Ad Hoc Expert Consultation on Variables and Terminology for Aquaculture Monitoring in Asia, held in Bangkok, Thailand, 13-16 September 1999, recommended, among other points, that:

  • aquaculture statistical work should not be isolated, but rather, coordinated and integrated with aquaculture management and planning at both central and field levels;
  • aquaculture data collection capacity of countries be evaluated;
  • a closer collaboration between aquaculture development and monitoring be promoted;
  • the purpose of data collection and the analysis expected be clearly defined and identified;
  • norms, standards, definitions, classifications and harmonized methodology for data collection be developed;
  • countries should be assisted in evaluating the monitoring of aquaculture activities;
  • well-presented statistical and non statistical information with analytical explanations should be considered in order to provide relevant time-series and reliable information for efficient aquaculture management and planning; and
  • the scope of the data collected should be considered in view of the changing data needs for outputs, as well as planning processes.

In addition, many information systems were found to have been developed on the basis of the capacity of the software, rather than on what the users needed, and the primary focus was to record data rather than analyse, disseminate or use the data and information compiled (IOA, 1996).

What emerges from the above, as well as from other recent regional and international meetings (EAC/EC/FAO, 1994; FAO/NACA,1998)is that there are some fundamental deficiencies in existing aquaculture data and information, particularly those required to support policy-making, planning and management. These deficiencies include:

  • Poor understanding of the purpose. Data collection efforts concentrate mainly on data collection, rather than its analysis or use. The purpose of the data being collected and linkage to decision-making processes are often neglected. Too little attention is often given to whether or not the data collected are those required to answer the policy and management questions.
  • There is a lack of common definitions, classification and “normal” reference levels that are agreed upon and adopted by all parties involved in the data collection and compilation.
    Data and information collection systems can be of poor or inconsistent quality (e.g. lack of relevance, reliability and timeliness) due to weakly designed collection strategies at local/field levels, particularly in the developing parts of the world.
  • Under-utilization of data and information compiled due to (a) insufficient and inadequate analysis and (b) ineffective communication and presentation.
  • Limited capacities (generation and storage) of national aquaculture data and information programmes, particularly in the developing regions of the world.




Opportunities for regional action

Aquaculture policy-making, planning and management, as well as collection and analysis of data and information at national, state/provincial and local levels, are primarily national responsibilities. Although their capabilities vary, most countries have their own data and statistical systems for the purpose of aquaculture policy-making, planning and management.

Nevertheless, the above noted issues render several opportunities for regional cooperation (see Table 1). Such cooperative actions enhance efficiency of the national aquaculture data and information gathering programmes and promote regional collaboration in management and utilization of aquatic resources. Therefore, regional cooperation should be guided by the following principles:

  • Regional cooperation must take into account national needs and interests.
  • Existing systems and programmes should be used wherever possible and appropriate.
  • Activities should build on existing systems and programmes.

Establishment of data and information programmes for aquaculture policy-planning and management is a long-term commitment. Therefore, formulation of regional cooperative actions on information, particularly establish-ment of regional aquaculture information networks, must carefully consider the sustainability of such cooperative actions. Information activities must be built into the regular programmes of the appropriately mandated agencies/institutions, both within central government agencies and local administrations, so that the activities become part of their core programmes. Similarly, regional aquaculture information programmes and systems should be built into the core programmes of the appropriate regional or international bodies.


Aquaculture data and information collection, along with their compilation, is not an end in itself. Information should be used to support and/or influence aquaculture policy and


management decisions. Significant amounts of data and information are being collected, but are not effectively utilized due to:

  • insufficient analysis;
  • ineffective packaging and communication; and
  • poor reliability/quality, relevance and timeliness.

Most importantly, existing data and information systems tend to focus on the processes of data collection, rather than the overall purpose and goals of the exercise, i.e. service and utilization. Collection of data and information is an undertaking that requires tremendous resources from the agencies involved. Therefore, questions must be asked of the significance of data and information compiled to ensure that they provide “meaning” and serve the intended purpose(s).

Information needs for policy-making, planning and management are expanding as concerns over sustainable aquaculture, support of disadvantaged rural communities in a market-oriented economies and protection of natural resources grow. No single recommendation or action can respond to all these concerns, or the needs of the sector. To overcome the existing deficiencies, a concerted and persistent effort to collect useful information and data is necessary.

The primary role of international and regional organizations/institutions is to support and facilitate national efforts. Thus, formulation of regional actions should be based on national commitment and interests. While collection and analysis of aquaculture data and information for national policies and management are primarily national responsibilities, countries will derive substantial benefits from regional cooperative efforts. Additionally, regional collaboration helps muster political will, and this will reinforce the synergy required for national actions.


To address poor understanding of the purpose of data and information collection in some sectors:

  • Improve awareness of non-research target users - aquaculture policy-makers, planners and managers.
  • Improve dialogue with users, definition of precise needs, perceived knowledge gaps and impediments to improved aquaculture policy, planning and management.




To address under-utilization of data and information collected:

  • Improve accessibility of required data and information, while taking into account individual farmer confidentiality (possibly via codes or cooperative-based data storage), if applicable.
  • Improve awareness of benefits (including cost-benefits) derived from access to, and use of, accurate and reliable data - especially for aquaculture planning and management.
  • Promote and coordinate programmes at national and regional levels as an integral part of sector aquaculture management and planning. Where the scale of aquaculture warrants, this may include computer-based communication and data networking.
  • Initiate compilation and exchange of aquaculture policy reviews and proposals, including lessons learned and successful policy and management interventions, based on data and information availability/unavailability.
  • Produce national and/or regional directories of existing data and information resources.

To address ineffective communication and presentation:

  • Define the communication mechanisms required to disseminate results to all users (annual reports, statistical summaries/reports, workshops, management meetings, stakeholder meetings etc.) through hard-copy or electronic media.
  • Define the data/information needs of the policy-makers, planners and managers to ensure the information gathered is readily understandable - raw data or analytical jargon can be “inaccessible” to non statisticians, economists etc.
  • Provide training in effective communication of data and information analyses to promote understanding of their applications for aquaculture, policy-making, planning and management.

To address poor relevance, reliability, and consistency of data and information:

  • Improve stable support (manpower, materials and data storage mechanisms) for required data and information collection, to ensure conscientious dedicated expertise is maintained and consistent within long-term data/information collection programmes.
  • Improve access to standardized compilation methods, such as:
    - record-keeping formats and
    - access to safe data storage and/or computerized networks, where possible.
  • Training for data and information collectors and compilers, to ensure that data/information is treated in a consistent manner, including regular verification processes.

To address a lack of internationally comparable methodologies for aquaculture data and information handling:

  • Give national and regional priority to establishing internationally agreed-upon standards, definitions and classifications for aquaculture data and information collections, data analyses, interpretations and applications.
  • Encourage national efforts to harmonize methodologies used for aquaculture data and information processing. These may need to be developed separately for different aquaculture sectors (e.g. marine, estuarine, inland, shellfish, finfish).
  • Establish regular cross-checking of international standards against regional needs/capacity, to ensure continued compatibility with aquaculture policy, planning and management goals.

To address limited capacity of national programmes:

  • Promote awareness and examples of effective and efficient use of data/information for enhanced development and management of sustainable aquaculture.
  • Use such examples to reinforce political will and commitment to promote strong and consistent national data and information collection, as well as analyses.
  • Strengthen links between human resources dedicated to aquaculture policy-making, planning and management and those dedicated to data and information collection.





Chua, T-E. ed. 1996. Lessons Learned from Successful and Failures of Integrated Coastal Management Initiatives. MPP-EAS Tech. Rep. No. 4, p. 30.

ECA/EC/FAO. 1994. Aquaculture Development and Research in Sub-Saharan Africa. CIFA Tech. Pap. 23, FAO, Rome, 151pp.


FAO/NACA. 1998. Workshop on Aquaculture Information Systems, held in Bangkok, Thailand, 17-20 July 1998.

IOA. 1996. Computers in Aquaculture Planning and Management: workshop held at the Institute of Aquaculture from 18 - 21 June 1996. Web site: (Article reproduced from Fish Farmer Magazine, Sept/Oct. 1996).







1 Information, in its technical sense, refers to systematically generated and interpreted data and is purposely designed to meet or satisfy needs of its users.